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(Jesus Christ)
Jesus or Jesus Christ (jēˈzəs krīst, jēˈzəz), 1st-century Jewish teacher and prophet in whom Christians have traditionally seen the Messiah [Heb.,=annointed one, whence Christ from the Greek] and whom they have characterized as Son of God and as Word or Wisdom of God incarnate. Muslims acknowledge him as a prophet, and Hindus as an avatar (see avatara). He was born just before the death of King Herod the Great (37 B.C.–4 B.C.) and was crucified after a brief public ministry during Pontius Pilate's term as prefect of Judaea (A.D. 26–36).

Primary Sources of Information on Jesus

The primary sources for Jesus' life and teaching are the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (see articles on the individual books, e.g., Matthew, Gospel according to), though these are not biographies but theologically framed accounts of the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, i.e., of the basic subject matter of Christian preaching and teaching. Other books of the New Testament add few further details. Among non-Christian writers of antiquity, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger refer to Jesus, as does Josephus (Joseph ben Matthias) in at least one passage. The 2d-century Gospel of Thomas sheds light on the development of the tradition of Jesus' sayings.

Jesus' Life and Teaching

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke contain narratives of Jesus' birth and infancy, which disagree in many points but concur in asserting that he was the miraculously conceived son of Mary, the wife of Joseph, and that he was born at Bethlehem in Judaea. All four Gospels agree in dating his call to public ministry from the time of his baptism at the hands of John “the baptizer,” after which he took up the life of an itinerant preacher, teacher, and healer, accompanied by a small band of disciples (see apostle). The central theme of Jesus' teaching, often conveyed in the form of a parable, was the near advent of God's Reign or Kingdom, attested not merely by his words but by the “wonders” or “signs” that he performed. The chronology of this period in Jesus' life is entirely uncertain; what seems clear is that his activities evoked skepticism and hostility in high quarters, Roman as well as Jewish. After perhaps three years in Galilee, he went to Jerusalem to observe Passover. There he was received enthusiastically by the populace, but was eventually arrested and, with the cooperation of the Jewish authorities, executed under Roman law as a dangerous messianic pretender. The Gospels give relatively detailed and lengthy accounts of his last days, suggesting that the story of Jesus' Passion was a central element in early Christian oral tradition. They close with accounts of his empty tomb, discovered on the “third day,” and of his later appearances to Mary and Mary Magdalene and to the circle of his disciples as risen from the dead.

The Christian calendar revolves around the life of Jesus; important feasts include (in the Western Church) the Annunciation (Mar. 25); Christmas (Dec. 25), with its preparatory season of Advent; the Circumcision (Jan. 1); the Epiphany (Jan. 6); Candlemas (Feb. 2); and the Transfiguration (Aug. 6). The Easter cycle of movable feasts and fasts begins with Lent, which ends in Holy Week; after Easter comes the Ascension. Sunday, the Christian sabbath, is the weekly memorial of Jesus' resurrection.

Jesus in Islamic Tradition

Jesus is highly regarded in Islamic tradition as born of the Virgin Mary and as a prophet restating divine religion. His miracles and institution of the Eucharist are attested in the Qur'an. Muslims do not believe that Jesus died on the cross. Unable to accept that crucifixion could serve the purposes of God, Islamic tradition holds that someone else died in his place, while Jesus was taken by God to return at the end of time to judge all people.

Modern Portrayals of Jesus

Starting with the advent of historical criticism in the late 18th cent. (see higher criticism), scholars increasingly recognized that the Gospels were written from the point of view of the original Christian believers, who were more likely than moderns to accept supernatural occurrences and explanations. Thus in the 19th cent. many attempts were made to reconstruct by historical and critical methods a picture of Jesus that corresponded more closely to modern ideas of reality. The most famous of these lives of Jesus is that of Ernest Renan (1863). Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906, tr. 1910) is in large part a survey of this literature and its shortcomings. Schweitzer's work brought an end to a series of historical reconstructions of the life of Jesus and demonstrated that the eschatological focus of the Gospels was not something to be discarded in the attempt to encounter the historical Jesus.

Many scholars in the first half of the 20th cent. argued that the Gospels were narrative proclamations imbued with faith and not in any sense objective presentations of the life and teaching of Jesus. Two leading figures of this attitude were Rudolf Bultmann and his student Ernst Käsemann; in the early 1950s they sought to link the historical Jesus and the Jesus confessed by the church.

In the 1970s research into the historical Jesus took a new turn. Geza Vermes published Jesus the Jew (1973), in which he attempted to place Jesus squarely in the Jewish milieu of the 1st cent. The Jewishness of Jesus has increasingly been the focus of Jewish and Christian scholarship. This approach takes a much more optimistic view of the historicity of the Gospel traditions. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has allowed comparison of the Gospels with the brand of Judaism represented in the scrolls. Still other contemporary scholars have sought to portray Jesus as a charismatic teacher of subversive wisdom.


See G. Vermes, Jesus the Jew (1973); M. Grant, Jesus: An Historian's View of the Gospels (1977); J. P. Mackey, Jesus, the Man and the Myth (1979); J. D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus (1985); E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (1985); M. Casey, From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God (1991); J. D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus (1991); J. P. Meier, A Marginal Jew (3 vol., 1991–2001); D. Flusser, Jesus (2d ed. 1997); T. Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills (1999); P. Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews (1999). For a survey of Jesus in art and literature, see J. Pelikan, Jesus through the Centuries (1985).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Greek Christós, “anointed one”), also called Jesus Christ, in Christian church teaching, the founder of Christianity. According to Gospel mythology, Christ was begotten by the “Holy Spirit” and was born of Mary, the wife of Joseph, in Bethlehem. As an infant Christ was taken to Egypt to escape from Herod I. He returned to Palestine and was baptized by John the Baptist. Gathering around him 12 disciples, among them Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Judas, he traveled throughout Palestine, preaching and working miracles. After being betrayed in Jerusalem by Judas for 30 pieces of silver, Christ was condemned to death during Passover week by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate along with two thieves. He was crucified, died, and was buried, but “after the Sabbath was over” he rose from the dead. An “antilegend” about Christ has also come down to us through the second-century Roman writer Celsus and in the Talmud and other sources according to which Christ was the son of Mary and the Roman soldier Panthera (Pandira) and was stoned to death for sorcery. Christian theology of the second, third, and fourth centuries developed the idea, alluded to in the New Testament, that Christ was the son of god, and he came to be regarded as the second person of the trinity. Orthodox Christianity conceived of Christ as god-man, in whom the human and the divine were united.

The question of the historical existence of Christ has provoked sharp controversy among specialists in religion. There are two basic schools of thought, the mythological and the historical. The first perceives Christ as a mythical figure, created out of totem beliefs or agricultural cults similar to those of Osiris and Tammuz. Some scholars regard the myth of Christ as a variant of the Buddha legend or the product of astrological speculation. The second school maintains that Christ is a historical person, citing as evidence the references to Christ contained in the works of Josephus Flavius and Tacitus, the second-century antilegends about Christ (which deny not his existence but his supposed divinity), and the early origin of the Gospels (papyrus fragments of the Gospel of St. John dating from the early second century). Among the arguments put forward by adherents of the mythological school are the discrepancies in the New Testament stories about Christ, the abundance of miracles ascribed to him, the errors in the description of the life and natural environment of Palestine, and the absence of information about Christ in the works of Greco-Roman writers of the first century. (The school disputes the authenticity of the references to Christ in the writings of Josephus Flavius and Tacitus.) Some historians of the mythological school contend that the Gospels were written at the end of the second century, that is, much later than the life of Christ that they describe, and that the image of Christ in the Gospels emerged under the influence of Plutarch.

Occupying an important place in medieval literature and art, Christ remained at the center of attention of the Renaissance artists. In modern times, Christ was perceived as a moral ideal (L. Tolstoy), as a revolutionary rebel (K. Kautsky), and as a hero-martyr (E. Renan).


Drews, A. Otritsanie istorichnosti lisusa v proshlom i nastoiashchem. Moscow, 1930. (Translated from German.)
Couchoud, P. Zagadka lisusa. Moscow, 1930. (Translated from French.)
Kublanov, M. M. lisus Khristosbog, chelovek, mif? Moscow, 1964.
Kazhdan, A. “Istoricheskoe zerno predaniia ob Iisuse.” Nauka i religiia, 1966, no. 2.
Kryvelev, I. A. Chto znaet istoriia ob Iisuse Khriste? Moscow, 1969.
Kryvelev, I. A. Istoriia religii, vol. 1. Moscow, 1975. Pages 145–155.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


forgives man for his sins. [Christianity: Misc.]


Agnus Dei
lamb of god. [Christian Tradition: Brewer Dictionary, 17]
symbol of Christ’s body in Eucharist. [Christian Tradition: Luke 22:19]
chi rho
monogram of first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 111]
Jesus, especially as the Messiah. [N.T.: Matthew 1:23]
Greek acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. [Christian Symbolism: Child, 210]
Jesus’s area of activity. [Christianity: Wigoder, 203]
Good Shepherd
[N.T.: John 10:11–14]
Greek for ‘fish’; early Christian symbol and mystical charm. See fish. [Christian Symbolism: Brewer Dictionary, 478]
acronym of Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews,’ inscription affixed to Christ’s cross as a mockery. [Christianity: Brewer Note-Book, 450]
(I.H.S.) first three letters of Greek spelling of Jesus; also taken as acronym of Iesus Hominum Salvator ‘Jesus, Savior of Mankind.’ [Christian Symbolism: Brewer Dictionary, 480]
King of Kings
appellation for Jesus Christ. [N.T.: Revelation 17:14]
the Lord as the sacrificial animal. [Christian Symbolism: O.T.: Isaiah 53:7; N.T.: John 1:29]
symbol expressing power and courage of Jesus. [Christian Symbolism: N.T.: Revelation 5:5]
Lord of the Dance
“At Bethlehem I had my birth.” [Br. Folk Music: Carter, “Lord of the Dance” in Taylor, 128]
Lord’s Anointed, the
designation for Christ or the Messiah. [Christian Tradition: O.T.: I Samuel 26:9]
Man of Sorrows
epithet for the prophesied Messiah. [O.T.: Isaiah 53:3]
expected leader who will deliver the Jews from their enemies; applied by Christians to Jesus. [O.T., N.T.: Brewer Dictionary, 602]
Piers the Plowman
English plowman who becomes allegorical figure of Christ incarnate. [Br. Lit.: The Vision of William, Concerning Piers the Plowman, Magill III, 1105–1107]
token of the Lord and his coming. [Christian Symbolism: O.T.: Numbers, 24:17; N.T.: Revelation 22:16]
gives nourishment to branches or followers. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 107; N.T.: John 15:5]
symbol of Christ’s blood in Eucharist. [Christian Tradition: “Eucharist” in Cross, 468–469]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Christ), regarded by Christians as fulfilling Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah
2. the Messiah or anointed one of God as the subject of Old Testament prophecies
3. an image or picture of Christ
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005